White Privilege?

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The UK’s venerable children’s charity Barnardo’s is in hot water over a guidance it published online (sorry, this might be behind a paywall) telling parents and others caring for children to teach them about “white privilege.”

A group of conservative MPs has complained to the charity itself as well as to the Charity Commission about this “move into political activism.” Earlier, the Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch had told MPs that teaching children about “white privilege and their inherited racial guilt” could be breaking the law.

A Barnardo’s spokesman denied that the charity is promoting critical race theory and said,

“… we certainly don’t believe Britain is racist or that anyone should feel guilt about being from a particular background. We do know that in our country in 2020 being non-white creates particular and additional needs – indeed the blog itself was written based on what children in our services told us they wanted to convey. To be ‘colour blind’ would be to fundamentally fail in our duty to address the needs of these children.”

So, what to make of this? Here is my take on it:

If you are not promoting a particular theory or political ideology you should not be using its buzzwords.

Apart from being closely associated with critical race theory, the term “white privilege” is misleading and sends the discussion about racial inequality in the wrong direction.

A privilege, as opposed to a right or entitlement, has the connotation of an unearned benefit. If having adequate housing, a job, and generally feeling safe are described as “white privilege,” the implication is that you are not entitled to these things, and that therefore the solution would be to take them away from you in order to create equality.

Other things that are described as aspects of “white privilege”, such as the preponderance of white teachers, white police officers, judges, and jurors, are, in a country like the UK which is still predominantly white, not at all related to being white or black; if you go to, say, Nigeria or Zimbabwe, even as a white person you are unlikely to encounter white teachers, police officers, judges, and jurors. Also, our energy should be turned towards encouraging everyone not to commit crimes in the first place rather than worrying about the ethnicity of the police officers when a crime has been committed.

And when Barnardo’s writes that it is “white privilege” to have a managerial job, it ignores the fact that only a small percentage of all working people, regardless of ethnicity, have managerial jobs.

In reality, equality is fostered when we work to ensure that minorities of every kind enjoy adequate housing, a job with a living wage, and a safe environment — for these are not (or should not be) privileges, but human rights.

I agree with the Barnardo’s spokesman when he says,

“We believe those who nurture the next generation of children should be supported in understanding racial inequality in all its complexity, so that they in turn can find appropriate ways of discussing this with children – much in the same way other big parenting conversations happen already. In a year of so much upheaval and debate about race,  shying away from the subject doesn’t mend division.”

I agree we ought not to shy away from the subject of racial inequality. But rather than appropriating a term so closely linked to a controversial academic and political theory, with all its misleading connotations, it would be far better to frame the discussion in terms of extending the human rights many people enjoy to those who, for whatever reason, are currently denied them.

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